Digital champions are your social superheroes

Back in October 2008, Gina Poole told me about the network of BlueIQ Ambassadors she had set up at IBM.

Gina’s mantra was this: when introducing something new (eg, social software), use volunteers to drive things forward. They will build momentum and consensus for you.

“Run a pilot programme. Get a few dedicated people on board – early adopters and enthusiasts. Make them the ‘poster children’ of your campaign. Make them the rock stars. Don’t just evangelise the project, say ‘look at what it did for this individual’: success breeds success.” 

Volunteers + enthusiasm = success!

Sounds great, right?

Today, every organisation of a certain size needs digital champions. They may come under different names – software evangelists or community builders – but they essentially do the same thing: act as powerful connectors within the organisation, re-engineering, re-building and re-energising.

Treat your champions well and they will help you create a dynamic, networked, 21st Century organisation. But neglect them, or treat them carelessly, and they will end up doing quite the opposite.

Digital champions need social leadership to thrive. But many organisations still lack this. In the absence of such, some kind of basic reward structure – showing recognition and acknowledgement – is essential.

I’ve been a digital champion (internal and external) for a few years now. Here are ten principles I try to follow: 

1.  Know what your network looks like: who are the most influential people? Who are the most connected? (Not necessarily the same.) Who has the ear of the CEO? Who’s always chatting in the pub? A great way to map your online network is LinkedIn’s InMaps. Don’t forget to identify gaps – for example, make sure you’re connected to team leaders in your region (ideally online, if they aren’t already on a social network, help them get there)!

2.  If you are not happy with something in the organisation, use your network (1) to change things. If you wish to take public action on something, get as many influencers as possible on board beforehand.

3.  Lead by example: do things in a networked way: listen and engage with other stakeholders: comment, re-tweet and share others’ work as much (if not more than) producing your own.

4.  Find out where the people you want to reach are hanging out – fish where the fish are. If your colleagues like to be on LinkedIn then go to LinkedIn, don’t try to get them all over to Tumblr, Pinterest or whatever the latest exciting thing is.

5.  Do offer support, advice and signposting to people at grassroots level where you are. Don’t offer a free consultancy service. Do what you can and stick to areas you are interested in.

6.  Value your community’s existing strengths and build on them.

7.  Familiarise yourself with your organisation’s top level strategy, values and mission (especially in terms of tech and comms). If this information isn’t readily available to you, use your network to lobby for change. 

8.  Champion openness and transparency – but use common sense: be sensitive to personal privacy and commercial concerns.

9.  Connect people and projects and strengthen your organisational network by social reporting: blog, vlog, tweet and update on important events and happenings.

10.Look after yourself – conserve energy levels. If you are feeling stretched and fed up then duck out. You’re a volunteer after all. Stay passionate!

Photo: Matt Stratton